Friday, 30 July 2010

Dragon Age

Yup, that's me. Two handed sword wielding warrior Aedan Cousland spiking Urthemiel's head in heroic sacrifice

My post fallout 3 obsession. Been playing DA:O pretty much non stop, since I got it, with minor breaks for Borderlands and a moment of madness when I gave in and bought me a PS3.

Well, its a Bioware game. That usually means the following.

Size: A playthrough – with most of the side quests ignored will take you around 40 hours. You play a completionist’s game, it will take you around a hundred. While, this is nowhere near Baldur’s Gate – where BGII with the Throne of Bhaal expansion would take you around 250-280 hours, its still loads more than any other game. Fallout and Oblivion have similar lengths – but a lot of that length is caused by grinding mechanics – enemy respawns in visited locations, freeform adventuring, the ability to continue playing after the main quest (with the Broken Steel expansion in Fallout 3) etc.

Writing: Is usually good, lots of hooks and jokes, very few BLAMs, lots of mythology gags and pop culture references. Lead writer was David Gaider, who wrote the unofficial and amazingly KICK ASS BG:TOB module Ascension – more about that later – who won my undying fanboy adoration when I tried his improved Abazigal.

Romance: Oh all kinds, whether you are male or female, whether you’re human, elf or dwarf, straight or gay – or even bisexual.  And options for consequence free sex – with your choice of human/elf/dwarf/animal at the local brothel)

Characterization: Usually very good, much deeper than the usual video game characters – especially the baddies – case in point – Shale, Loghain.

Tactical Gameplay: You try fighting the mooks, Diablo style, you’re dead before you know it. And the sheer number of demonic spider types is staggering. Enemy archers can spam scatter shot – a kind of group stun arrow which prevents you from doing anything for a few seconds -  disabling you while other baddies tear your ass apart. Emissaries and enemy mages cast stuff like crushing prison – where you take constant damage without being able to move or defend yourself – or curse of mortality – constant damage, cant be healed, bye bye. So you have to use the pause button a great deal – direct your mages, your tanks and DPS dealers.

Over and above this, Bioware have been dishing out downloadable content frequently, adding to the number of adventures you can have and several goodies in the form of arms and equipment that kick butt.

The closest I can come to describing the DA experience is junk food. You just cant stop eating.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Under The Dome

Almost finished reading “Under the Dome”.

I classify the King books into three phases – the first is what I call the “Inspired” king – where the supernatural horror goes hand in hand with amazing character portrayals – and the pacing is so natural that you don’t notice you’ve spent something close to twenty four hours non stop – taking the book with you everywhere from the dinner table to the shit pot the next morning. I put Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Christine, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, The Stand – everything up till It in this group. Kings themes and motifs – author protagonists, kids in danger, last kid standing, small towns – are all more or less defined in this group. Cujo was a bit of an aberration – I didn’t like it very much -  but the rest of the books were by and large, amazingly readable.

The second set is when – for me – at least  the pace and passion of the writing seemed to let up a little. This starts with Misery. Don’t get me wrong. Misery is truly f*cking terrifying. After the Eldritch Abomination Cosmic Horror Demonic Spider that It was– or for that matter, the planet destroying madman that Greg Stillson  would become – getting you to stain your pants brown with just the ax crazy fan lady is quite an achievement – A more significant thing – was that Misery is like a play – just two main characters and a couple of peripherals. That theme continues in Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne etc. This is the period when the Dark Tower references started popping everywhere. I quite like the books in this period as well – even the reviled Tommyknockers – even more so, now that I have a metal plate in my skull.

The third phase is the post accident phase – from Dreamcatcher on. I have been quite disappointed with most of the books in this period – the last three Dark Tower stories, Black House, Rose Madder, Bag of Bones etc. I love the pulp King, and I wasn’t too comfortable with the idea of a “Literary” King. But On Writing was truly a classic

This is back to the older King – not the inspired pulp of “Salem’s Lot” or “The Stand” – but more the King of the post “It” period – the book would fit seamlessly with “The Dark Half” or “Needful Things”. The usual cast of characters in a Small Town in Maine – this time, its Chester’s Mills, a twin of “Cycle of the Werewolf”’s  Tarker’ s Mills.

Its the kind of novel King could churn out in his sleep. There’s a fantastic bunch of set pieces – from the first page – where the eponymous dome falls on Chester’s Mills – a plane crashes into it, and the pilot’s amputated leg falls on the hero and a woodchuck is cut neatly into half – because it was on the border when the dome fell.

So you have a whole town under the dome, with its two churches, its crystal meth lab, its spineless head selectman, it’s moronic police second in command – the good guy chief dies in the first few pages – pacemakers explode on proximity to the zone and the bad guys – here, the second selectman and used car dealer with his murderous necrophiliac rapist psychotic son. The book –all 1000+ pages deals with five days of the dome. The body count is huge – around 20 people of the towns population of 2000 survive. Infant immortality is multiply averted. Anvils on global warming, Bush/Cheney, Iraq are dropped all over the place, but the book reads well. The pace doesn’t slacken

So, as far as I’m concerned, its back to the middle age king, and thats a good thing.